HONG KONG, 15 July 2014 —Two breastfeeding mothers, Ms Judy Chen, Chairman of the Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF HK), and Ms Guo Jing-jing, UNICEF HK Ambassador, represented Baby Friendly Action to submit about 3,000 petition signatures collected from organizations and the public to Dr Ko Wing-man, Secretary for Food and Health today. Together with about 30 breastfeeding mothers, babies and members of Baby Friendly Action, they urged the Government to listen to public opinion, and support breastfeeding by recommending the implementation of the Hong Kong Code to regulate inappropriate marketing of infant formula milk at the Legislative Council panel on health services next Monday.
The group called for a full implementation of the Hong Kong Code in its entirety, regulation for all breast-milk substitutes for children up to 36 months, and an immediate adoption of voluntary code instead of a delayed legislated Code.
The Hong Kong Code of Marketing and Quality of Formula Milk and Related Products and Food Products for Infants and Young Children (the Hong Kong Code) was drafted by Food and Health Bureau based on the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes by World Health Organization and UNICEF. The Code aims to regulate the marketing of infant formula milk in Hong Kong.
The public consultation for the Code finished in February last year, yet the result and implementation has not been announced. The government will report and discuss the related consultation results at the Legislative Council panel on health services next Monday (21 July).
To urge for the implementation of the Hong Kong Code, UNICEF HK formed the Baby Friendly Action in early July with six breastfeeding advocacy organizations, including Hong Kong Breastfeeding Mothers’ Association, Hong Kong Catholic Breastfeeding Association, La Leche League Hong Kong, MamaMilk Baby Alliance, Breastfeeding MaMa’s group and UNICEF Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative Hong Kong Association.
As the convener, UNICEF HK Chairman Ms Judy Chen and Ambassador Ms Guo Jing-jing led 30 breastfeeding mothers, babies and members of Baby Friendly Action to meet with Dr Ko Wing-man, Secretary for Food and Health and other officials today.
After the meeting, Ms Judy Chen, the Chairman of UNICEF HK said, “According to data from the Department of Health, the exclusive breastfeeding rate at six months of Hong Kong is 2.3%, while the international standard is 40% on average. Hong Kong has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates among cities and countries around the world. The implementation of the Hong Kong Code can shape the breastfeeding culture in Hong Kong.”
Ms Guo Jing-jing, UNICEF HK Ambassador, born in mainland China, said “In Hong Kong, the formula milk advertisement is everywhere. I see it whenever I watch TV. In the Mainland you don’t see that many.”
According to the statistics of local advertising industry, infant formula manufacturers spent 80 per cent more on promotion in the last three years. In 2013 they spent HK$2.7 billion on advertising, which is HK$200 million more than Department of Health’s budget for services to children, women, elderly and prevention of diseases.
“The breastfeeding public education messages promoted by the Government and NGOs are overshadowed by formula milk advertisements,’ Judy said. She pointed out that the public had long been brainwashed by formula milk advertising, and the recent incident of a sneaky photo of a mother breastfeeding on a bus is just an example. ‘To make breastfeeding the norm again, the Hong Kong Code should be implemented now.”
Three issues addressed by Baby Friendly Action
In a closed-door meeting, Baby Friendly Action addressed three issues on the implementation of the Hong Kong Code to Secretary of Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man. The group called for a full implementation of the Hong Kong Code in its entirety, regulation to all breast-milk substitutes for children up to 36 months, and an immediate adoption of voluntary code instead of a delayed legislated Code.
Dr Patricia Ip, Vice-chairman of UNICEF Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative Hong Kong Association, explained that the Hong Kong Code is drafted on the basis of Codex, revising any claims, such as reducing the scope from covering products for toddlers aged 36 months to 24 months, or removing regulations on formula milk advertising, will be against the purpose of Hong Kong Code.
The group also warned the government not to shelf the voluntary Hong Kong Code but to impose legislation suggested by some formula milk manufacturers. The legislation can take a long time and will leave a chance for the manufacturers to obstruct the legislative process, and continue its aggressive promotions. The Government could launch the Hong Kong Code first and if the voluntary code cannot stop the inappropriate marketing, it can call for a legislation based on a stronger public support.
Breastfeeding mother Guo Jing-jing sighed for helpless peers
UNICEF HK Ambassador Guo Jing-jing said she was frequently asked which formula milk she would feed her kid when she was pregnant. Guo sighed, “With formula milk promotions flooded in the market, the public perceives infant formula feeding as the norm. The lack of breastfeeding friendly facilities also put Hong Kong breastfeeding mothers in a weak position.”
Jing-jing added, “I am a breastfed baby. I thank my mom wholeheartedly for providing me the best food for health. I wish that my baby, and all babies in Hong Kong can enjoy this most nutritious food. Hong Kong government should really be considerate and help breastfeeding mothers by providing better support in society.”
Since 3 July, Baby Friendly Action issued a Joint Declaration and an online public petition to ‘Protect breastfeeding. Protect our health. Curb the inappropriate marketing of formula milk.’ For just 10 days, the action has solicited about 3,000 supporting signatures from professionals, institutions, groups, celebrities, and general public who care about children.
Supporters come from all walks of life, including public figures from political, religious, health care, sports and education sectors – Legislators Dr Hon Chiang Lai-wan, Hon Albert Chan Wai-yip, Dr Hon Kwok Ka-ki, Former Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Bishop John Tong Hon, Infectious Diseases Specialist Dr Lo Wing-lok, Cyclists Ms Lee Wai-sze and Mr Wong Kam-po, etc.
Ms Guo Jing-jing said on behalf of all the supporters when submitting the petition signatures, “I hope the government will listen to the voices of the mothers, babies, public and people from all walks of life, to implement Hong Kong Code as soon as possible.”
According to WHO, breast-milk is the natural food of human infants, and it meets their needs optimally and completely. Babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months and this should be continued for two years and beyond, with appropriate complementary feeding. Since the 1970s, WHO and UNICEF have recognized that formula-milk promotions led to a drop in worldwide breastfeeding rate. In 1981, the ‘International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Subsititues’ was adopted to regulate formula-milk marketing.
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